Diane, thanks for your insightful message. However, I think those who
brought up portfolios were thinking about their use at an institutional
level to replace student placement exams that test students' writing
skills, and not within specific courses.
Nevertheless, your message is quite relevant to the concerns of the
people on this listserv, and I'm interested in what you've said. I've
had a similar experience as you. In my graduate studies in the US, I
was taught about the theory and practice of portfolios in writing
courses, and I used the portfolio system (modifying it sometimes much as
you did) quite successfully when teaching in the US.
Let me share with my peers a short cautionary tale about the portfolio
system travelling across cultural and institutional contexts. I
transported the portfolio system here at the Univ. of Calgary to a
fairly new and large, interdisciplinary course. To test it more safely,
the portfolio was worth only 20% of the final grade, and only meant for
small regular assignments. However, our teaching assistants and
students were utterly mystified by it, and unfortunately, due to the
various complexities and stresses of running this new course, they
didn't understand how to handle the portfolio system until near the end
of the course.
Most of our university students are not used to this "process" pedagogy
in writing classes, nor even to taking classes that focus on writing
skills, and they are also very dependent on grades in their feedback.
They didn't even understand what a "draft" was for in a course. When we
didn't give grades on these small assignments and instead asked students
to look at each other's work to learn from their peers, they thought at
first that the assignments were therefore absolutely worthless busywork,
or that the instructors were just being lazy and not grading in a
reasonable period of time, or that we were cruelly keeping their grades
a secret from them. Then when they figured it out later in the term,
they felt they had worked way too hard on the draft (and I believe they
certainly did overwork themselves, they and the TAs treating an informal
task as if it were worth a huge amount of their grade), and that it was
punishment or unfair extra work to be told they needed to resubmit it,
revised if they wished, for the final portfolio where it would be graded.
Mainly because of this cultural disconnect and the failure to
communicate the concept effectively in a stressful situation, compounded
with the grading issues that you yourself mention arising when final
portfolios came in, the next instructors of the course decided to throw
out the portfolio system.
I still think it's a very effective system when it's explained well and
understood. I still use it in my own classes of 30 students or less
where I believe it can be very successful in actually teaching students
to learn through revision and peer feedback. However, to adapt it to
the student culture here at the U of C, I now assign provisional grades
along the way so they feel like they are getting useful feedback, and so
I have a sense of approximately how good the student work was before
revision. So here's my caution-- if one uses it where there is a
culture that is not accustomed to learning through such methods, you
need to work extra hard at the beginning of a course explaining how and
why you are doing it, and you need to adapt it somehow to that
Diane Ewen wrote:
>I have been a loyal reader of postings, but this is my first offering.
>I am not aware of any Canadian universities that use portfolios, but I worked with such a system when I taught at The College of The Bahamas from 1999-2000.
>For each assignment, students wrote one draft that was critiqued by a peer in class. Students then submitted a revised draft to me, with the peer evaluation sheet attached. I could provide summary comments on the paper but was not supposed to assign a grade. In slight violation of the rules, I added a notation that if I were to evaluate the paper as it now stood, I would assign a grade of _____. Students could choose to revise the paper and include it in the portfolio. If I remember correctly, students submitted the best four out of six assignments. The portfolio was worth 60% of the final grade.
>The major advantage of the system was that students had more opportunities to revise papers based on feedback from readers. One major disadvantage was that, if I had not assigned a "temporary" grade, students would have had no idea of their mark on a major portion of the course until the end. They were anxious enough as it was going into the final exam without knowing an "official" term mark. As well, the marking at the end of term was numbing, especially with four different English courses. To add to the marking, each instructor had to pair up with a colleague and evaluate a portion of that instructor's portfolios to ensure that marking standards were consistent.
>Some students did well with portfolios because they took advantage of the time to re-think and revise papers significantly. Others simply cleaned up the punctuation and rewrote assignments in their best hand. I suspect that the stronger students would have done as well under a more traditional system of submitting papers throughout the term. However, I admit that I taught at COB for only two terms and didn't have time to adjust fully to the process. I don't know if the English department has changed the process in any way. I am curious to know what experience others have had with such a system.
>Diane Ewen, M.A.
>Learning Skills Strategist
>Learning Success Centre
>Department of Student Services
>350 Victoria Street
>Toronto, ON M5B 2K3
>Office: JOR 302A
>416-979-5000, ext. 4578
>[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send a SIGNOFF CASLL command to
[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
its newsletter, and the annual conference, go to